PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Facial coverings will soon be required once again inside Palm Beach County buildings that are owned and leased by the county.
In a news release Thursday morning, county officials said that starting at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 3, facial coverings will be mandatory for employees and the public inside all county owned and leased buildings until further notice.
County property includes any buildings where Palm Beach County's offices, divisions, and departments conduct business.
Officials said they're reinstating the mask mandate because of the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.
"In order to continue providing critical government services and for businesses to remain open and viable we must work together to slow the spread," the county said in a news release.
If you refuse to wear a mask, law enforcement officers may issue a trespass warning and remove you from the building.
"The decision was difficult to make," said Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth. "I hate masks and we were happy to have been able to get past that, but obviously the virus transmission rate has gone from a moderate rate to a very high level. We need to protect our staff. We need to be able to do business."
Weinroth also addressed the long lines at testing sites even as a new location opened in Riviera Beach, with traffic backed up for miles at community sites amidst the growing demand.
"Two or three weeks ago, things were much different, and in fact we were faced with a situation where we were considering shutting down some of the test sites. So in a matter of weeks, we really pivoted," Weinroth said.
"Since Christmas week and then again this week, it's even worse," said pediatrician Dr. Lynda Bideau.
Bideau calls the shift in cases staggering.
"All of a sudden we're seeing positive cases in the office, testing positive with the rapid tests in the office," Bideau said.
Her advice to families is to stay vigilant.
"You have to ride the storm and then we tell the parents when to worry. High fevers that they can’t control, the child is lethargic, the child is having trouble breathing, respiratory distress. Those children need to go to the emergency room," Bideau said. "Otherwise stay at home, treat the symptoms, and watch your children."